Olin Buchanan Rivals.com College Football Senior Writer
Don't scoff at 4-yard gains. Three of them get a first down and keep the chains moving.
But scoring a touchdown at that pace requires long drives, and those are practically obsolete today.
Spread offenses and wide-open passing schemes are geared toward creating big plays – or "explosive" plays, as many coaches call them. Depending on a coach's standards, "explosive" plays usually are defined as a play that covers a minimum of 17 to 20 yards.
So, while there may be some debate as to what constitutes an explosive play, there is a universal opinion about them: Explosive plays typically are made by explosive players.
Here's a list of the 10 most explosive players for the 2009 season.
The versatile McCluster, who takes snaps in Ole Miss' "Wild Rebel" formation, had 18 plays of at least 20 yards this past season and scored on touchdowns runs of 32, 40, 35 and 36 yards. That's especially impressive considering most of those plays were against SEC defenses. His longest play was a 56-yard reception against Vanderbilt. He also caught a 32-yard pass and had a 34-yard run in the Rebels' Cotton Bowl victory over Texas Tech.
No tight end averaged more yards per catch (14.4) or caught more touchdowns (14) than Gresham, a freak because he's 6 feet 6 and 260 pounds and has wide receiver speed. A physical mismatch for defensive backs, Gresham had three touchdowns on plays of at least 52 yards. He had 13 plays of more than 20 yards. The Sooners have other big-play threats, such as running back DeMarco Murray and receiver Ryan Broyles, but they don't cause a defense the same type of headaches as Gresham. The Sooners lose two starting receivers from '08, so Heisman-winning quarterback Sam Bradford likely will look for Gresham even more often in '09.
FIU improved from one win in '07 to five wins in '08, and Hilton was the primary reason. A true freshman, Hilton scored touchdowns on runs, receptions, a punt return and a kickoff return. He also threw a pass for a score. Almost half of his 41 catches (19) gained at least 21 yards. He had nine catches of at least 40 yards, including one for 84 yards. And before anyone suggests his success is a byproduct of playing in the Sun Belt Conference, it should be pointed out he had a 61-yard catch against USF and returned a punt 74 yards for a touchdown against Kansas.
Does Briscoe really belong on this list? Ask Oklahoma. Briscoe had catches of 25, 40, 47 and 69 yards against the Sooners. He had at least three plays covering 20 yards against OU, Louisiana Tech, Nebraska and Minnesota – all bowl teams. He also had 23 plays of at least 20 yards. And he had a 40-yard kickoff return. Briscoe's 15.3 yards-per-catch average was the nation's highest for players with at least 90 receptions.
As a sophomore, Dwyer averaged 6.98 yards per attempt, which was the highest average in the nation for any player with at least 200 carries. He rushed for 1,395 yards and 12 touchdowns, including a 60-yard flash against Georgia that changed the momentum in Tech's come-from-behind victory. It wasn't his longest run, either: He ripped off an 88-yard touchdown jaunt against Mississippi State. Those were among his 19 runs of at least 20 yards. He also had four pass receptions that went for at least 20 yards and he returned a kickoff 52 yards.
Devine is one of just five returning players who averaged more than 6.0 yards per carry and had at least 200 attempts. Though he had only four touchdown runs (one covered 92 yards), Devine had 18 plays in which he gained at least 20 yards and seven of more than 30 yards. He rushed for 1,289 yards even though quarterback Pat White was the focus of the Mountaineers' offense. Devine will be counted on more in '09 because White won't be there.
He ranked among the nation's top 15 in receiving yards and kickoff-return yardage this past season. Gilyard was third in the nation in average yards per catch (15.75) among receivers with at least 50 receptions. Seven of his 11 touchdown catches covered at least 26 yards. He had a 69-yard touchdown catch in the final minutes that enabled the Bearcats to avoid an upset at Hawaii. He also returned kickoffs 97 and 100 yards for TDs.
Arguably the nation's greatest triple threat, Spiller has produced long-distance touchdowns via run, reception and return. Spiller already has set school records with 12 touchdowns on plays of at least 50 yards and six of at least 80 yards. This past season, he had six runs and seven receptions of at least 20 yards. He also had a 33-yard punt return and kickoff returns of 64 and 96 yards. Seven of the 11 touchdowns he scored in '08 covered at least 24 yards. He ranked 21st in the nation in all-purpose running even though he backed up James Davis. Davis is gone, so Spiller figures to be featured more in Clemson's offense this fall.
He has the speed to separate from coverage and the size and agility to make catches even in traffic. Bryant averaged 17.01 yards on 87 catches this past season; he averaged more yards per catch than any receiver with at least 80 catches. A dozen of his 19 touchdown catches were on plays that covered at least 21 yards. He also scored on two punt returns of more than 70 yards. In all, he had 22 plays that gained at least 20 yards. To fully comprehend Bryant's importance to Oklahoma State's offense, consider that the Cowboys rolled up 469 yards of total offense against Oregon in the Holiday Bowl. But they managed just 59 in the fourth quarter after Bryant suffered a knee injury.
One of the fastest guys in college football, Best had 10 touchdown runs that covered at least 20 yards; on those 10 runs alone, Best rushed for 583 yards. He had six touchdowns on runs of at least 60 yards. Best also had six runs in excess of 30 yards in which he didn't score. In his first season as a starter, he rushed for 1,580 yards on 194 carries – 8.1 yards per carry. By the way, he had a 54-yard kickoff return, too.
Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.